Thursday, September 14, 2023

A MYSTERY, CRIME & NOIR NOTEBOOK by Gary Lovisi (Stark House 2023/forthcoming in November)

A collection of short essays from Paperback Parade editor/publisher Gary Lovisi, a companion to his 2022 A Sherlock Holmes Notebook, also from Stark House, in their Reference line. Most of the individual entries run about three pages or so, and when it gets to collecting, Lovisi's lifelong passion, he can get expansive and go for six or more...illustrated with black and white images of book covers and similar items of interest (looking online, or to his video presentations on YouTube, to get the full-color experience won't be too trying). 

This book upon receipt has already proved useful to me, as Steve Oerkfitz and I were sharing our frustration the other day with the ending of the famous French film adaptation of The Wages of Fear--a brilliant film till that point--which attempts profundity by basically tossing off much of what made the film till that point riveting, almost to the point of making an existential joke of it...Steve noted that this irked him sufficiently that he preferred the later US adaptation Sorcerer. One thing I'd never had the wit to do was check the source novel of both films, by "Georges Anaud" (Henri Girard)--not the easiest of tasks, given it apparently hasn't been reprinted in an Anglophone translation since the 1950s, but Gary has a(t least a) copy, and describes the ending (which is much more a furtherance of the terms of the narrative than the Wages film chooses to be), and thus an intellectual itch is of the best results in consulting a reference work. 

Essays are reprinted from a wide array of sources, including Paperback Parade and The Armchair Detective and Ed Gorman and Lee Server's The Big Book of Noir, along with others a bit less likely, but no less engaged and enthusiastic. You are likely to find it a fine addition to your reference shelf.

and currently available:

Friday, September 8, 2023

FFB: WORLDS TO COME edited by Damon Knight (Harper & Row 1967); FOURTEEN FOR NOW edited by John Simon (Harper & Row 1969)

 Dutch Uncles: Two Anthologies for Younger Readers:

    Worlds to Come edited by Damon Knight (Harper & Row, LCC# AC 67-10130, 1967, $4.95, xii +337pp, hc)
    • ix · Introduction · Damon Knight · in
    • 1 · The Sentinel · Arthur C. Clarke · ss Ten Story Fantasy Spr 1951, as “Sentinel of Eternity”
    • 17 · Moonwalk · H. B. Fyfe · nv Space Science Fiction Nov 1952
    • 81 · Mars Is Heaven! · Ray Bradbury · ss Planet Stories Fll 1948
    • 109 · The Edge of the Sea · Algis Budrys · ss Venture Mar 1958
    • 141 · The Martian Way · Isaac Asimov · na Galaxy Nov 1952
    • 213 · The Big Contest · John D. MacDonald · ss Worlds Beyond Dec 1950
    • 227 · Ordeal in Space · Robert A. Heinlein · ss Town & Country May 1948
    • 253 · That Share of Glory · C. M. Kornbluth · nv Astounding Jan 1952
    • 303 · Sunken Universe [Lavon] · James Blish · nv Super Science Stories May 1942, as by Arthur Merlyn, see also “Surface Tension”
    • 337 · More Good Reading in Science Fiction · Damon Knight · bi
Fourteen for Now: a collection of contemporary stories edited by John Simon (Harper & Row, OCLC #54245, 1969, $4.95, xvi + 316pp, hc)
ix · Introduction for the Young Reader: Books in an Age of Television / by John Simon  
1 · When the Priest is Not at Home / by B. Traven (ss) The Night Visitor and Other Stories, Hill and Wang 1966
19 · A Good Man is Hard to Find / by Flannery O'Connor (nv) The Avon Book of Modern Writing, ed. William Phillips & Philip Rahv, Avon 1953
44 · Into the Green Night / by Irvin Faust (ss) Roar, Lion, Roar, Random House 1961
60 · The Stone Boy / by Gina Berriault (ss) Mademoiselle Jun 1957
79 · The Games of Night / by Stig Dagerman (translation by Naomi Walford) (ss) Nattens lekar ("Night Games") Norstedts förlag 1947; The Games of  Night, Bodley Head 1959
93 · Nazis / by Ferenc Sánta (translation by John Simon)(ss) Kortárs ("Contemporary"), May 1960; translation in New Hungarian Review
103 · Among the Dangs / by George P. Elliott (nv) Esquire Jun 1958
119 · The Death of Me / by Bernard Malamud (nv) World Review April 1951
151 · Murke's Collected Silences / by Heinrich Böll (translation by Leila Vennewitz) (ss) Esquire Nov 1959
182 · The Hero / by Bruce Jay Friedman (ss) Cavalier 1966
196 · Ceremonies / by Joyce Carol Oates (nv) At the North Gate, Vanguard 1963
227 · As I Was Going Up the Stair / by Alfred Chester (nv) The Sewanee Review 1957
277 · The Day Beaumont Became Acquainted with His Pain / by J.M.G. LeClézio (translation by Daphne Woodward) (nv) Mercure de France 1964; Fever, Hamish Hamilton 1966
313 · Biographical notes / by John Simon

Two anthologies aimed at a teen readership by two famously prickly critics, and writers otherwise (not that Harper & Row, their mutual first publisher, nor certainly the paperback packagers, would mind if adults were willing to partake--one notes the degree to which adult-targeted anthologies could easily feature the same sets of stories). Notable in part for the eclecticism of the choices, in the case of the Knight even to the the degree that all the stories are drawn from different magazines in the sf field (including Worlds Beyond which Knight edited), and that famous speculative fiction title Town and Country (devoted, of course, to fantasies and achieved realities of expensive living). 

Also notable to the degree which the Simon anthology doesn't eschew the fantastic, from the rather thoroughly science-fictional "Among the Dangs" to the various more blatantly metaphorical explorations as the Böll, and those that can be read as certainly akin to the fantastic (or at least as a borderline horror) as the O'Connor; certainly, very few of Simon's writers haven't at least delved notably into the fantastic, even as few of Knight's haven't made at least some notable or interesting contribution to the contemporary/mimetic or other non-fantasticated genres, including Heinlein and Asimov and definitely including Budrys, Kornbluth, Blish, Bradbury and, most obviously, John D. MacDonald, most of whose career was set in other contexts than fantastic fiction. Also, as is common in anthologies aimed at young readers, no fear of gathering chestnuts, mixed in both cases with rather obscure stories...and at the remove of half a century, some once ineluctable stories are now only infrequently seen, if at all...such as "The Stone Boy" or "The Edge of the Sea". 

Knight offers quick headnotes and a brief bibliography of recommended additional reading, Simon musing endnotes to each story, and both manage to provide introductions that are interesting mixes of useful observation and hobbyhorse-riding on their parts...Knight lays out rather well why science fiction is not so much a predictive artform as a speculative one, which can at times predict and at times nudge readers, scientists or technologists or those who are likely to work in those fields eventually, toward development (and notes that Jules Verne enjoyed playing around with exotic but already achieved advances and discoveries, while imbuing them with Gosh-Wow as if they were still basically out of reach)...while providing in his anthology a number of stories with no relation to the stated thesis, as one might take it, of the anthology...since "Mars is Heaven!" and at least a few of the others are more borderline horror and/or of other ambitions altogether (as Algis Budrys noted, in his own hobbyhorse-riding review, one of only two the book received in the sf media, apparently--typically, Budrys does not miss a chance to dismiss his own work as less than fully-realized, while also justly taking on the unearned reputation of Arthur C. Clarke as primarily a hard-science extrapolator so much as frequent mystic). While Simon makes useful argument for what makes good narrative art vs. less good, while mostly pretending that what made so much television drama in the 1960s and previously (he doesn't admit that there are any exceptions) so bland and unenlightening doesn't apply to such arts more dear to his heart as film, stage drama and literature (and where he does admit the latter, it is almost grudgingly and fleetingly).

Good anthologies, some interesting arguments and insights from the editor/annotators, and some work no longer as over-familiar as it once was, and some which never had the chance to become over-familiar...and there are worse fates than reading the Oates or the Kornbluth again. Knight had already published a few younger-skewing anthologies at time of publication, and would publish a few more, though he would produce vastly more aimed at adult audiences; I believe this is Simon's only anthology of fiction, for any audience. And it should be noted that the Blish story in the Knight volume is the predecessor to Blish's most famous single short story, "Surface Tension" (as "Common Time" is becoming more obscure)..."Sunken Universe" was combined with the later story to fashion the novella form of "Surface Tension"...

Worlds to Come can be read here.

Algis Budrys reviews the Knight in Galaxy, October 1967 issue. (P. Schuyler Miller reviewed it for Analog, as well.)
John Leonard reviews the Simon in The New York Times in the 1 March 1970 issue (rather late)(and the scanning in of the article was particularly inept, putting paragraphs out of place; you'll have some puzzle assembly to do while reading Leonard's review of the Simon and The Loners, edited by L. M. Schulman, and George A. Woods's review of a how-to-cartoon book for young readers, admixed.)(Woods mentions in passing how he meant to be reading instead TR and Will by William of Manners's popular-history successes after his work as founding editor of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, whom I was asking after just yesterday and the day before.)

For more of today's books (in 2019), please see Patti Abbott's blog.

US first edition:

UK paperback:
a redux post with some slight edits and added links.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

SSW: SUPERHORROR (aka THE FAR REACHES OF FEAR) edited by Ramsey Campbell; THE MOON'S WIFE (wt: SIGGY LINDO) by A. A. Attanasio

Mooning covers...

Superhorror, published by W.H. Allen in 1976, as the slim anthology was titled in thaoriginal UK edition and its US reprint (the 1980 UK paperback takes the variant title), includes the following stories, all original to it: (via ISFDB)
I picked up my remaindered copy of the 1977 St. Martin's Press US hardcover, with the Donald Grant cover above carried over from the Allen edition, in 1979 or '80 in one of the Hawaiian chain of department stores, Liberty House.

As the first anthology he would edit, it's an impressive start by any measure...with most of the contributors demonstrating why they were already masters of the form, and the largest flaw being a lack of female contributors, with the welcome exception of Daphne Castell...but the biggest surprises in the book would not be that Leiber or Aickman or Wellman or even the then still relatively young Drake, and Castell and Campbell himself, would provide impressive work, but that Brian Lumley's suspense story, like all his work carrying a touch of the Boy's Adventure Tale about it but also like most of his non-Lovecraftian work far superior to the (sustainedly popular) Necroscope kludges, would be a fine and brutal story of retribution; Joseph Pumilia's rather grimly jokey homage to EC horror comics was an early example of that sort of thing in prose, and a good one; and then there's R. A. Lafferty's story. It was no secret that Lafferty was brilliant and eccentric, and often veered close to out-and-out horror in much of his previous fiction, but only rarely nudged any given work firmly into the field...but "Fog in My Throat" takes on the very soul of horror, the knowledge that we will be extinct and how we cope with this, and succinctly and forcefully tells us how and why we'd best not try to fiddle with our self-delusional defense mechanisms in dealing with that. From a devoutly Catholic man, well along in years and not in the greatest of health at the time, it's a brilliant story that carries every sort of conviction with its wit, invention and compassion, and I've remembered it more clearly than any other in this book over the decades.

And, of course, it's been reprinted exactly once, as far as I can tell, in a 1991 small-press collection of Lafferty's short work.

What A. A. Attanasio had been writing for several years under the working title, for his protagonist, Siggy Lindo, was published in a much truncated form as The Moon's Wife, which does describe her predicament, by HarperCollins in 1993. The acquiring editor who'd bought the fat novel, which if Al didn't think of as his magnum opus it was one particularly close to his heart, left HC, and the new editor, as I recall, not only didn't care for Not Invented Here but, I gathered, also chose to be offended that Al as a male writer would dare to write a novel about a female protagonist who could be seen as delusional, and indeed is by other characters in the romantic fantasy about a woman who learns that she is to literally become the Moon's wife, soulmate of its spirit. So, since this was published well after the initial splash of Attanasio's debut novel Radix, a genuinely international bestseller, and before the Arthor series began riding the UK charts, the editor demanded and got a severe edit that reduced the novel to a fraction of its original length. The book when released got zero support, zero attention, nearly zero sales and saw only the original hardcover edition in the States...Al's success in the UK led to a UK paperback reprint. Even truncated, it remains a charming and elegant work, in some ways my favorite of Attanasio's novels and still demonstrative of the joy he took in writing it in its original form, that probably could more easily find an audience today than it could 30 years ago, when publishers weren't too certain how to market Richard Matheson's paranormal romances, either. My copy is one that Al sent along from his stash of HC promotional copies. And in firs
t published form, it's almost a novella...Al has a new edition available, from a small press:

For more of Wednesday's Short Stories, please see Patti Abbott's blog

A redux post, slightly edited/updated, from 2010.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: the preliminary TOC for a Best Suspense Stories anthology...

Almost eleven years ago now, I mentioned here, in a review of notable mostly suspense-fiction anthologies having had a promising nibble from a small press publisher, an anthology I'd been mulling seemed close to happening, but no...and I might still go ahead, but part of what has been holding me up was whether to go the Poll Route, and give a ballot to various excellent writers in the field of what I call suspense fiction, and knowledgeable readers/fans, and see what they might like among my suggestions, and follow (or not) their own--many so-called Hall of Fame (and similar labels) volumes in various fields have been following that path over the decades. But the proposal has gone, in the way of many spec submissions to publishers, by the wayside or has at least been hanging fire.

Perhaps the most obscure of the volumes I reviewed...

So might still, and so here's some easily revisable preliminary thoughts for such a which might try not to include Too many all but inevitable chestnut stories, but it'd be hard to put together such an anthology and leave out, say, "The Lottery" or "The Most Dangerous Game" or "Leiningen versus the ants" or "An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge"...I had a long list of possibilities in one or another file, on one or another computer...

Edward D. Hoch: "The Oblong Room"
Patricia Highsmith: "The Snail-Watcher"
Daphne du Maurier: "The Birds"
Joan Aiken: "Marmalade Wine" and/or Evelyn Waugh: "The Man Who Loved Dickens"
Jorge Luis Borges: "The Other Death"
John Collier: "Evening Primrose"
Bill Pronzini: "Strangers in the Fog"
Joe R. Lansdale: "The Night They Missed the Horror Show"
Joe Gores: "Watch for It"
"Saki": "The Reticence of Lady Anne"
Robert Bloch: "The Final Performance"
Ray Bradbury: "The October Game" 
Barry N. Malzberg: "Agony Column"
Fredric Brown: "Don't Look Behind You"
Cornell Woolrich: "Papa Benjamin" aka "Dark Melody of Madness" (though I should reread it, as I remember it verging on the supernatural without going all the way there, which is what I'm aiming at in this context)
Avram Davidson: (several possibilities I should review!)
Jack Ritchie: (likewise; provisionally:) "For All the Rude People"
Stanley Ellin: "Specialty of the House"
Richard Matheson: "The Distributor"
Kit Reed: "To Be Taken in a Strange Country"
Dennis Etchison: "The Pitch"
Robert Arthur: (several to parse)
Graham Greene: (likewise)
Roald Dahl: "Man from the South"
David Ely: "The Academy"
Joyce Carol Oates: "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"
Brian Garfield: "Checkpoint Charlie"
Algis Budrys: "The Master of the Hounds"
E. A. Poe: "The Cask of Amontillado" (as chestnutty as a story can be...)
...and so many more I should be recalling, and have read since I last updated my list...

Any particular favorites of yours you might suggest?

For more of today's Short Story Wednesday reviews, 

And the TOC of the Pronzini and Malzberg anthology, omitted from the post that this one links to at top:
Great Tales of Mystery and Suspense ed. Bill Pronzini, Martin H. Greenberg & Barry N. Malzberg (A&W/Galahad 0-88365-700-7, 1985 [Jan ’86], $8.98, 601pp, hc) Reprint (Arbor House 1981 as The Arbor House Treasury of Mystery and Suspense) anthology. This edition omits one story, “Crime Wave in Pinhole” by Julie Smith, which makes it an abridgement of the original. This is an instant remainder book.

11 · Introduction · John D. MacDonald · in
17 · The Gold-Bug · Edgar Allan Poe · nv Philadelphia Dollar Newspaper Jun 21-28, 1843
48 · Hunted Down · Charles Dickens · nv New York Ledger Aug 20-Sep 3, 1859; EQMM Jan ’47
67 · The Stolen White Elephant · Mark Twain · nv The Stolen White Elephant, Webster, 1882; EQMM Jul ’43
85 · Ransom · Pearl S. Buck · nv Cosmopolitan Oct ’38; EQMM Jun ’55
108 · The Adventure of the Glass-Domed Clock [Ellery Queen] · Ellery Queen · ss Mystery League Oct ’33
126 · The Arrow of God [Simon Templar] · Leslie Charteris · nv EQMM Sep ’49; The Saint Detective Magazine (UK) Nov ’62; The Saint Detective Magazine Jan ’63
147 · A Passage to Benares [Prof. Henry Poggioli] · T. S. Stribling · nv Adventure Feb 20 ’26
174 · The Case of the Emerald Sky [Dr. Jan Czissar] · Eric Ambler · ss The Sketch Jul 10 ’40; EQMM Mar ’45
183 · The Other Hangman · John Dickson Carr · ss A Century of Detective Stories, ed. Anon., London: Hutchinson, 1935; EQMM Jan ’65
196 · The Couple Next Door [Inspector Sands] · Margaret Millar · ss EQMM Jul ’54
211 · Danger Out of the Past [“Protection”] · Erle Stanley Gardner · ss Manhunt May ’55; EQMM Mar ’61
223 · A Matter of Public Notice · Dorothy Salisbury Davis · nv EQMM Jul ’57
239 · The Cat’s-Paw · Stanley Ellin · ss EQMM Jun ’49
254 · The Road to Damascus [Daniel John Calder; Samuel Behrens] · Michael Gilbert · ss Argosy (UK) Jun ’66; EQMM May ’67
272 · Midnight Blue [Lew Archer] · Ross Macdonald · nv Ed McBain’s Mystery Book #1 ’60; EQMM Jul ’71
299 · I’ll Die Tomorrow · Mickey Spillane · ss Cavalier Mar ’60
310 · For All the Rude People · Jack Ritchie · ss AHMM Jun ’61
323 · Hangover · John D. MacDonald · ss Cosmopolitan Jul ’56
333 · The Santa Claus Club [Francis Quarles] · Julian Symons · ss Suspense (UK) Dec ’60; EQMM Jan ’67
344 · The Wager [Kek Huuygens] · Robert L. Fish · ss Playboy Jul ’73; EQMM Nov ’78
353 · A Fool About Money · Ngaio Marsh · ss EQMM Dec ’74
358 · And Three to Get Ready... · Horace L. Gold · ss Fantastic Sum ’52
368 · “J” [87th Precinct] · Ed McBain · nv, 1961
414 · Burial Monuments Three · Edward D. Hoch · ss AHMM May ’72
425 · The Murder · Joyce Carol Oates · ss Night-Side, 1977
434 · Fatal Woman · Joyce Carol Oates · ss Night-Side, 1977
439 · Agony Column · Barry N. Malzberg · ss EQMM Dec ’71
446 · Last Rendezvous · Jean L. Backus · ss EQMM Sep ’77
453 · The Real Shape of the Coast · John Lutz · ss EQMM Jun ’71
464 · Hercule Poirot in the Year 2010 [Hercule Poirot] · Jon L. Breen · ss EQMM Mar ’75
472 · Merrill-Go-Round [Sharon McCone] · Marcia Muller · ss The Arbor House Treasury of Mystery and Suspense, ed. Bill Pronzini, Barry N. Malzberg & Martin H. Greenberg, Arbor House, 1981
484 · A Craving for Originality · Bill Pronzini · ss EQMM Dec 17 ’79
491 · Tranquility Base · Asa Baber · ss, 1979
506 · The Cabin in the Hollow · Joyce Harrington · ss EQMM Oct ’74
519 · Peckerman · Robert S. Phillips · ss The Arbor House Treasury of Mystery and Suspense, ed. Bill Pronzini, Barry N. Malzberg & Martin H. Greenberg, Arbor House, 1981
531 · A Simple, Willing Attempt · Elizabeth Morton · ss The Arbor House Treasury of Mystery and Suspense, ed. Bill Pronzini, Barry N. Malzberg & Martin H. Greenberg, Arbor House, 1981
535 · Watching Marcia · Mike Resnick · ss The Arbor House Treasury of Mystery and Suspense, ed. Bill Pronzini, Barry N. Malzberg & Martin H. Greenberg, Arbor House, 1981
545 · Somebody Cares · Talmage Powell · ss EQMM Dec ’62
555 · Jode’s Last Hunt · Brian Garfield · ss EQMM Jan ’77
572 · Many Mansions · Robert Silverberg · nv Universe 3, ed. Terry Carr, Random House, 1973
596 · My Son the Murderer · Bernard Malamud · ss Esquire Nov ’68

Friday, August 25, 2023

FFB: A WRITER PREPARES by Lawrence Block (LB Productions 2021)

This is a rather belated acknowledgement and review of this fine memoir, by one of the best writers of crime fiction we have had, and one who is (like his colleague and contemporary and mostly sf and fantasy writer Robert Silverberg) overseeing some of his earliest pseudonymous work (for the "men's sweat" magazines and the like) of the late '50s/early '60s, and his erotica novels likewise and from the same era, coming out in new editions and collections. Block is releasing some of his work thus himself, much as he has this volume, under his own ebook imprint, and it's seen prompter reviews such as these, from:
and others, which (unsurprisingly), Block has assembled on a reviews page on his ebooks site. and which give you at least as much insight on the work at hand as I'm likely to do. But among the things I noted as I read it, and even though it's assembled from essentially two previously stalled attempts as early-career/life memoir, and a continuation that takes us to the point that Block is about to go about the business of a professional writing career with him writing consistently work he wants to write and is not unhappy to sign his name to, in the early/mid '60s (the second of the interrupted passages, mostly written in a spurt at a retreat/residency in 1994, ends in mid-sentence, and that disruption is preserved here, as the narrative is picked up on the next page). There is little here, if anything, that suffers from the surface appearance of rough-drafting that might suggest. 

One thing Block seems amused and bemused by, as he reflects, is a consistent bloody-mindedness on his own part, an unwillingness to take the path of least resistance even when that might well've been the safer bet, the arguably more sensible approach. And he tends to both critique himself and to put forth some evidence, not necessarily required to tell the main narrative of his life but for whatever reason useful to include, such as his occasional youthful seeking out the services of prostitutes and his live and let live attitude toward one friend who, as a middle-aged man, conducted a years-long affair with a girl from her earliest puberty to her breaking it off with the man when she was almost at voting age (slightly different Challenges to the Reader than "Ellery Queen" used to specialize in). Meanwhile, the more important developments are limned, such as how he realized his work-study adventures via Antioch College (which specialized almost to a fault in such a program) led to him realizing that he was fitting into the work world, via the Scott Meredith Literary Agency and the early writing assignments he took on in various capacities in and out of that clangorous workhouse (and scam perpetrator), better than anything the imprimatur of finishing his Antioch degree would ever help with...and how also a safe, steady corporate job, however much security it might provide for his new family after marriage and how good he was at what was required by it, just was not going to be the right fit for him in the long term...and, yet also, how often he would let his not always justifiable sense that he needed to See This or That Thing Through lead him down needlessly troublesome pathways, even if only temporarily. I can relate. I suspect too many of us can. 

This is a compelling and informative, informal and instructive, look at how it is and what it means to be its author, and that's what memoirs are certainly fills in a sense, particularly, of how life worked at the Meredith Agency, which Barry Malzberg and others have written about at length or too briefly as well, in a more matter-of-fact manner than many have done (SMLA was entirely too influential to Tell All about, at its height, and it certainly touched on the lives and work of too many of the more interesting writers, editors and others over the past century to not be looked into in detail, as Block makes clear, while not taking on the panoramic task himself, at very least at this time). 

Block needed to be a writer, and we are all better off that he met that need. And this is an eminently readable and insightful account of how that happened, and the times and situations in which it happened in. Not too much more one could ask for, except perhaps for more similar memoirs from some of the other participants, and anything Block chooses to eventually say at similar length, beyond the framing comments provided here about the composition of  this book, about how things have gone since. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

SSW: Delmore Schwartz: "Screeno"; Donald Barthelme: "Great Days", PARTISAN REVIEW, Winter(?) 1977 (V. 44, #4), edited by William Phillips

Can be read here

The continuing reorganization of the house turns up items I haven't looked at for some years, including this issue of Partisan Review, which boasts of two short stories ahead of any other contents, and two stories which turned out to be relatively useful signposts of where their authors were Going at time of composition. 

The Donald Barthelme became the title story of the eventual collection (see cover below) and is one of a series of his later stories which eschewed anything but dialog, often in telling less a narrative than giving a sense of  what might be gleaned from seemingly random (at least at first) snippets of conversation, some single lines alone, others brief segments of conversations, in this case what sounds very much like what one might overhear while walking toward, into and through an art-show opening (one might recall that Barthelme worked in museums as well as a writer). The apparently untethered statements of slightly addled folks or otherwise atypical people one might've passed by to the eventual party, along with apparent statements by police into their radios, eventually give way to variously anodyne, clever and/or snarky statements and exchanges from the denizens of the gallery show and cocktail party within the destination. Barthelme seems to be reaching for a sort of fake-reportage in how he shapes these transcript-like records, and given he or his editor made this one the title story for the collection, someone was particularly happy with this one (or simply liked the title) is certainly readable and potentially less upsetting to the casual reader than some other examples of Barthelme in this mode, such as one (I can't currently recall the title) which seems to be told/transcripted from the POV of a man who is dying of a heart attack or something similar.  Good chance it's in the collection pictured below, and it might be "The Crisis". Barthelme adapted some of the stories from the collection, presumably including the title story, into a play for voices also entitled Great Days.

While the Delmore Schwartz story was composed about the the same time as "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities", 1937, but unlike that clangorous story (first published in the then-young Partisan Review in 1938), "Screeno" was not published until more than a decade after Schwartz's death, in this issue of PR, from a manuscript that had been collected in his papers, and was put forth by his son for reprinting in book form in the first edition of the 1978 collection named for "In Dreams..."; perhaps Schwartz thought of it as too similar in setting and incident, at least, to "IDBR", as it also involves a young man not unlike Schwartz himself going to catch a film in a theater...the film itself, in this case, being less fantastically a reflection of his chaotic life than the lottery run (instead of giving away plates or the like to customers, in a Depression movie house) and the protagonist the winner of a grand "Screeno" (like Bingo) prize, only (to the dismay of the theater's management) another claimant on the grand prize emerging from the audience with a reasonably legitimate claim to an identical grand prize of $425 (in 1937 dollars)...and the various bickering and small or not so small mercies which result. Perhaps also, Schwartz felt "Screeno" too sentimental in comparison to "In Dreams...", though as a "new" story in 1977, it was later used as the title story of an eventual New Directions paperback anthology gathering later-published/collected work, cover below. 

What struck me most about "Screeno" was how much it reminded me also of another story from not long before its composition, not so much in incident as in ambition and tone, William Saroyan's "Seventy Thousand Assyrians", like the Schwartz about a young writer in the Depression none too certain of how things are going to work out for him, encountering some other folks whose current state is that much worse, and with the author's analog within the story not too sure of how he might help in the long run, but grateful for what little he could do immediately, and enraged in a quiet way, for the predicament they all find themselves in. As Cynthia Ozick notes in the introduction to the Screeno collection, Schwartz's training in and passion for philosophy raises its head in the story, along with Schwartz's love of poetry...a T. S. Eliot poem is quoted along with a far older work. (It's notable that not only the hipster but au courant literary hipster cred of Schwartz's one-time student Lou Reed had risen sufficiently for the latter to be invited to write a new foreword to the second edition of the IDRB and Other Stories collection).

It's rather unsurprising that Partisan Review was happy to be the first publication source for both of these, however belatedly with the Schwartz.

For more of today's Short Story Wednesday reviews, please see Patti Abbott's blog.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Guest FFB: Barry Malzberg and Charles Ardai on the last published Cornell Woolrich novel, as completed by Lawrence Block: INTO THE NIGHT

 From discussion lists, with permission:

Barry N. Malzberg:

The Woolrich novel which Lee Wright [who edited crime fiction for Random House and Simon & Schuster, as well as editing various anthologies before taking on her long-term publisher's editor gigs--TM] told me had been everywhere and rejected similarly was complete with a missing final chapter. I read the manuscript; it was okay with that gap...the missing chapter I suspect was actually written and dumped _or_ Woolrich thought better of it. Turned on an incestuous relationship with the dark lady revealed. I told Cornell how I thought it could be fixed (be explicit with the terrible final revelation) but he was in no condition to do that. After his death I volunteered to finish the novel, put the plea to Scott Meredith who with astonishing courtesy heard me out but decided that I was at that point utterly unknown. The Estate (Chase Manhattan Bank) recruited Larry Block to finish the novel. I could hardly be resentful; am grateful six decades on not to have been entangled.

As Woolrich's last agent (at the Scott Meredith Literary Agency) in his last terrible year and a half I tried to sell the novel stet to Lee Wright who said to me, "Dear, you're very new and don't know so I will tell you that Cornell has gone down a long, long way and everybody in NYC has seen and rejected this novel."

I should post this on Rara-Avis which cabal (with overlap here) would probably have even more interest but will leave it to our gang who are authorized to post it anywhere.

Charles Ardai, writer, editor, and publisher of the Hard Case Crime line:

Thanks, Barry, for that extra history, of much which I was unaware. The version of the manuscript Larry received for completion decades ago was also missing much of the first chapter (as well as the ending), as well as a handful of pages in the body of the book, so he filled in two big gaps (front and back) and bits and pieces throughout.

The opening that Larry crafted has always struck me as some of his best writing and wholly in keeping with Woolrich's view of life and the rest of the manuscript. Not an easy thing to write the beginning of an otherwise extant novel and have it tie seamlessly in to the rest, not just stylistically but in terms of everything that needs to be planted for reveals later to work properly, etc.

The ending (which was suggested by the last remaining pages Woolrich wrote) never entirely satisfied either Larry or me (or Mike [Francis M.] Nevins, who wrote the book's original afterword), because it imposed an 11th-hour happy resolution on material that was deeply and irreparably unhappy. So when Larry suggested that Hard Case Crime might bring the book out again, for the first time in 35+ years, part of the appeal was the opportunity to give it the proper, bleak Woolrich-ian ending it deserved (while being tinged, however horrifically, with romantic longing). That new ending, while it only alters the book's last few pages, I think goes a decent way to making the entire book a good deal stronger.

While we were in there tinkering, I also took the opportunity to fix up some errors that went uncaught the first time around -- for instance, Woolrich had the femme fatale see a photo of the dead woman's husband in the first chapter but then the plot of the final section hinged entirely on her not knowing what the husband looks like! That needed to be corrected, and a handful of other things needed some tweaks as well. It's not more editing than the book would have received (or should have) if it had sold when Woolrich was alive. And again, I feel it makes the book significantly stronger.

Is it the best he ever wrote? No. But I do feel it deserves to be in print, and at its best I feel it's a potent distillation of his themes and obsessions. 

And, Barry again, in response to a request about Barry's writing about Woolrich:

Thanks for your note. Maxim Jakubowski's Black is the Night (Titan 2022) is a "tribute anthology" published by the Titan division of Penguin/Random House, to which a lot of very good writers contributed pastiche or Woolrich-influenced fictions. It's outstanding and I was relieved to get a 1200 word vignette there after the deadline, Jakubowski being very receptive. There's a short-short story, "biographic pastiche" if you will, "Cornell", in the 4/72 Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, there is the openly influenced "The Interceptor" in Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine for August 1972 and included Allen J. Hubin's Best Detective Stories of the Year annual (1973 volume), there is a profile in The Engines of the Night. 

My daughter (born 9/16/70) is "Erika Cornell"...

First edition: 1987

Text copyright 2023 by Barry N. Malzberg and Charles Ardai